O.J. Simpson hearing: A blast from the media past

The fight over O.J. Simpson's money
The fight over O.J. Simpson's money

O.J. Simpson was back on TV Thursday, his face seemingly plastered across every channel. If it felt as if the '90s had been revived, well, in a way, they've never left.

Television, after all, is awash in nostalgia -- in revivals of shows like "Full House," "Twin Peaks" and the upcoming "Roseanne." The Simpson case has been the subject of some of that nostalgia, vaulting back onto TV with a pair of award-winning productions -- FX's dramatization "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story," and ESPN's documentary "O.J.: Made in America."

Simpson was once one of the most recognizable and popular figures in America. A legendary sports figure, commercial pitchman and actor at the time of his arrest for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994, it's been suggested he was possibly the most famous person in the country ever tried for murder.

The case, however, came to reflect and symbolize much more than that. As "O.J.: Made in America" detailed, his trial became a referendum on the justice system, the Los Angeles Police Dept. and the history of both in relation to the African-American community, following a series of high-profile incidents in the '90s, including the Rodney King and LaTasha Harlins cases that led to the L.A. riots.

Simpson looked older and grayer on Thursday when he came up for parole after having been jailed in a case unrelated to the murders. One of the commissioners drew laughs by accidentally saying that he was 90, but it was almost as shocking to hear that the former Heisman Trophy winner is now 70.

Yet Simpson's story remains a source of constant public and media fascination. And it has enjoyed a resurgence in just the last 18 months, with the miniseries and documentary exploring the sociology surrounding the man as well as the trial itself.

Related: O.J. Simpson goes free: Live updates

Relaunching the Simpson "media circus" -- a term he used during testimony to the panel -- might look like grasping at the past. But the name O.J. has too much history, too much built-in equity and, really, too much meaning in it for the media to resist.

Some would also argue that the ripples from the Simpson trial represent much more than nostalgia. In a Hollywood Reporter piece, CNN alum turned academic Michael Socolow described what he saw as a direct thread from Simpson case to the rise of reality TV in the late '90s, culminating in the election of Donald Trump.

That might be a bit of a reach -- at least, it was perhaps a more jagged, complicated path from Point A to Point C. Yet it's hard to deny that the mix of celebrity and the salacious has become deeply embedded in media, with O.J. among the important initials in that drift, along with TMZ.

Thursday's analysis brought out a host of familiar faces, also older and grayer, associated with the original trial. For legal experts, Simpson has remained the gift that keeps on giving.

Now granted parole, Simpson will never be far from the spotlight. For someone who reveled in being a public figure, though, he will likely live out his life as a pariah in the eyes of many. And as notorious celebrity fodder goes, the O.J. of today has a lot more company than he did in the mid-1990s, and the media have -- this one day excepted -- plenty of bigger fish to fry.


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